A Taste of Bread Loaf
with Kotryna Garanasvili and Michelle Mirabella
Upon arriving I was taken a bit by surprise because the reality of the conference went far beyond what I had imagined – the days were absolutely bursting with learning and connection.
The 2022 Bread Loaf Translators’ Conference took place in Ripton, Vermont during the week of June 13. While the conference already has an illustrious reputation in the translation community, we at Hopscotch thought our readers might benefit from hearing an account of it straight from the horse’s mouth: for those with little or no familiarity with Bread Loaf, it would be a chance to find out what actually goes on at the conference and perhaps even a spur to apply in the future, while past attendees could revisit their own memories and see how closely they tallied with this year’s event. We consequently reached out to our collaborators Kotryna Garanasvili and Michelle Mirabella, who were roommates at the conference in June, and invited them to reflect together on their experience. The following is the first of a two-part feature devoted to Bread Loaf; the second installment is forthcoming. Sit back, then, and enjoy a vicarious visit to Ripton!
Hopscotch Translation: How did the two of you come to hear about the Bread Loaf Translators’ Conference in the first place, and what made you decide to apply?
Kotryna: This takes me back a little bit, to be honest, as I first found out about Bread Loaf while pursuing my undergraduate degree. It simply stuck in my memory. I was translating one of my first poems into Lithuanian, Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” (for a grade, for that matter). As an accompanying piece, we read John Ciardi’s essay “The Way to the Poem.” I was deeply affected by both the poem and the essay. I honestly wouldn’t have properly understood the poem, or have been able to translate it without the essay. It’s an essay that I keep bringing up. Ciardi’s commentary on the meaning and context made much sense – and suddenly, the poem made sense, attaining this magical clarity. In the text, Ciardi mentioned Bread Loaf. My edition of the essay had a footnote that explained what Bread Loaf was – “the oldest and most prestigious writers’ conference in the United States, taking place every year in Vermont.” Intrigued, I read more about Bread Loaf and imagined it very clearly – this remote place in the mountains, the trademark Adirondack chairs, with writers sitting in them in the background of the idyllic Vermont landscape, the whole atmosphere permeated with an artistic spirit. The photographs merely confirmed this vision.
Since then, Bread Loaf has held a special meaning to me. Oddly enough, I never seriously considered actually going there. I think it’s because it became so intensely mystified that it might just as well have been a fictional place. It was something you read about and dream about – like Manderley, or Hogwarts. That’s how I thought of it. Up until this year, that is. I happened to read about Bread Loaf in Words Without Borders in early 2022, and this time, it clicked – I was finally able to see it as an actual place occupying an actual reality rather than fiction. I had a new vision, now, and this time, it was a personal vision. And so it was the first time I applied. I also knew I wanted to work with Anton Hur as soon as I saw his name among the faculty members. I was like, I want to be in Vermont, on the mountain, sitting in the Adirondacks, translating and talking incessantly about translation with Anton and others. Which is pretty much what happened.
Michelle: I had heard of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference through long-time friend and poet Ellene Glenn Moore years before my translator identity came to be, but it is only more recently that I began to understand myself as a writer and even an artist through translation, as someone who could be seeking opportunities like this. It was in Spring of 2021, my final semester of the M.A. in Translation and Interpretation at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, that I applied for the first time. Professor George Henson brought the opportunity to my attention as I began to think about what the months post-graduation would look like. In such uncertain times on a global level, professionally and of course otherwise, I decided to explore the opportunities offered by conferences, residencies, and programs especially while many were still taking place online, which made them more accessible from both a geographical and financial perspective. I applied for the Bread Loaf Translators’ Conference that Spring 2021, and in early summer I was accepted off the waitlist but unfortunately could not attend because the conference was taking place at the same time as the Banff International Literary Translation Centre’s Residency, to which I had been accepted and had already committed. So, I did what many of us in this field have learned to do when things don’t quite align the first (or second, or third…) time: I applied again! The serendipity of that conflict in Summer 2021, I feel, really worked in my favor because in applying again I was accepted to the Summer 2022 in-person Bread Loaf Translators’ Conference, an incredible opportunity I did not fully grasp until I arrived “on the mountain.”
Hopscotch Translation: What did the application process consist of? What were the materials that you eventually brought with you to the conference?
Kotryna: As far as applications go, it was pretty straightforward. You get to choose between two main strands – introductory workshops (more general and directed at people who are starting out as literary translators) and manuscript workshops (more specific and directed at people who have a particular translation manuscript they’d like to work on). I picked the latter, which meant selecting a manuscript and describing it, as well as providing a translation sample. I knew practically at once what I wanted to work on – Žali (Green), a historical novel by a brilliant contemporary Lithuanian author, Marius Ivaškevičius. I’m a great fan of this book and the author, and I felt it was a particularly timely novel against the background of the current events in Ukraine, considering the many parallels between the history of Lithuania and Ukraine, and how the novel addresses them.
Other things included a personal statement, a list of publications and such. My favorite part was that of linguistic background – we were asked to comment a little bit on how we picked up our languages. I loved telling mini-backstories of each of my languages and my personal connections to them, all quite different. It also made me realize I want to write a longer piece about this, as all these languages definitely deserve more discussion. It’s what we discussed a lot during the workshops, too.
Michelle: I agree with Kotryna that the application process was quite straightforward. I’ll add to her thorough description that applicants are also given the opportunity to indicate their preferences on workshop leaders. Like Kotryna, I was also thrilled to have been placed in Anton Hur’s prose workshop as I had been following his work as a thought leader in the field. A note on this for those of us with FOMO: I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in manuscript workshops led by Kareem James Abu-Zeid, Peter Constantine, Kimi Traube, and Yvette Siegert, but opportunities abound throughout the week to learn from all the faculty members through craft classes and lectures!
On my manuscript, I brought the first section of my translation manuscript of We Women Are All One Shadow by Chilean author Catalina Infante Beovic, an author with whom I’ve worked consistently since early 2020. The book is urgent at this moment in history, speaking to issues of gender and human rights set against the backdrop of a Chilean landscape that reflects the creeping effects of climate change. I’ve been pitching this manuscript to publishers, and wanted to get additional eyes on my work to gain insight into how the work is received and refine my prose. Beyond my own translation manuscript, I brought a binder organized with the manuscripts and source texts of my fellow workshop participants and got a hold of a notebook for my own note taking throughout the week. The conference was not device free but the setting truly lends itself to writing by hand and talking with one another sans screens. I did bring my laptop, but only recall taking it out in our room to catch up on some things outside the conference. I also did not have cell phone service, which I found quite freeing. I was able to be present physically and mentally, even more so than what our over-stimulating world tends to allow.
Hopscotch Translation: Before arriving, what did you realistically hope to get out of the conference? Did those expectations evolve over the course of the week?
Kotryna: For me it was multifarious – as it was my first time there, a part of me wanted to explore and de-mystify the place. I also knew I would inadvertently compare it to BCLT Summer School which I attended before and that played a pivotal role in my being so drawn to translation. I expected it to be a more or less similar arrangement (workshops blended with lunches and coffee breaks and socials and chats and walks, a perfect mini-world of its own, a translation wildlife. And there are so many parallels between Bread Loaf and BCLT. But I wanted to let Bread Loaf be its own thing, too. The former made me discover translation as something I want to do. Bread Loaf, in the meantime, helped me to fully devote myself to it.
I knew particular questions I wanted to handle, and I felt my direction was much more specific. Discussing everything with the group was incredibly useful – it re-confirmed the points that I felt were the strongest about the book. It simply shed a bright, translucent light on the whole process. The response went beyond my expectations – the story really reached the readers. The way they described the author’s language, at once assertive and scenic, is exactly how I would describe it, and the effect I was going for. At the same time, discussion and feedback pointed out what would be helpful to revisit and sharpen and to really make it the best possible version it can be. When I think of this book, I am genuinely excited.
Michelle: Upon arriving I was taken a bit by surprise because the reality of the conference went far beyond what I had imagined – the days were absolutely bursting with learning and connection. Anyone planning to attend should, if possible, plan to completely clear their week to give this learning opportunity their full attention and energy. Breakfast was available beginning at 7am and friendly socials went late into the night, with workshops, lectures, readings, and craft classes in between. Before arriving I was most anticipating the manuscript workshops, and prepared my own manuscript as well as a binder for my feedback on the manuscripts submitted by my fellow workshop participants. I expected to not only receive feedback on my manuscript but also strengthen my skills as an active participant in a multilingual translation workshop, an expectation that was certainly met in our workshop group which struck a wonderful balance between critique and support. Anton encouraged us to zoom out and not get too stuck in the weeds, which allowed for some incredible conversations including a lengthy one on italics/free indirect discourse/quotation marks. Coming recently from a language-specific M.A. where we were capable of discussing one word choice at length, largely setting the source text aside and engaging with the translations in their own right opened something up in my mind and is already influencing my translation craft.
Hopscotch Translation: Was there such a thing as a typical day during the week that you spent in Vermont?
Kotryna: Nothing was typical, I suppose. There was a lot of improv, as you would never know what discoveries each of the daily workshops would bring. At the same time, there was also definitely a lot of structure. The days were organized with a military-like precision.
A typical day would go something like this. You would wake up early in the morning and have a chat with fellow Bread Loaf participants in the shared bathroom while brushing your teeth, which made you feel you were back at boarding school, then come down to the dining room for breakfast. You would have coffee and eggs or pancakes or oatmeal, whatever could charge you for the day, then walk across the picturesque campus to the Barn where each of the faculty members gave lectures (they have all been recorded and available to tune into on the Bread Loaf website). After the lecture, you would join your group for a workshop, reading and discussing each other’s work, engaging in conversations that stretched over to lunch. Then another class on the craft of translation, meetings with editors, agents and publishers, then dinner, followed by readings in Little Theater and a late informal social at the Barn.
There were also so many activities arranged in between, such as the traditional picnic by Robert Frost’s cabin. And so many other things that it was honestly hard to keep track. I don’t know if it was humanly possible to take part in all of them. Of course I wanted to go moose hunting and nature walking and swimming in the nearby river and hearing more about the amazing community in Ripton that contributes to the conference every year since forever and know a million most fascinating stories – yet some of that had to be given up for the sake of the frustrating human need for taking a nap once in a while.
Michelle: To pick up where Kotryna left off, I was exhausted because of exactly what she describes: a week so full of wonderful opportunities that you don’t want to miss a thing! I wasn’t expecting the sheer wall of activities and the amount of required energy I’d forgotten it takes (over a long few years of dampened in-person engagement) to fully plug into a social experience like this. A typical day could easily span from 7am to 12am if you attend everything, so at a certain point it is necessary to make some strategic choices to not spread yourself too thin. Of course the workshops are required and most everything else is optional, but make sure to take advantage and attend everything that feels doable! I had thought I would have time to do some hiking, and even brought my hiking boots with me, but that truly was not in the cards for me beyond a scheduled casual nature walk. My strategy for handling the intensity of the schedule was heading to sleep somewhat early and getting started early, attempting to get enough sleep while having some quiet time in the morning before things got started. I quickly realized that this is part of the reason why some people choose to apply to and attend Bread Loaf again, something I had not even considered until I heard people asking “is this your first time?”
Hopscotch Translation: How does a workshop like the ones organized by Bread Loaf handle the diversity of languages that the participants are working with? How do you workshop translations from languages that not all of the participants speak?
Kotryna: There were seven languages in our group – Korean, Lithuanian, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, Italian, German, and Québécois French. As all of us worked on particular manuscripts, we looked into each of them throughout the workshops. We also had the source texts to refer to, and the nuances of the source languages would shine through. So many of them came up during our discussions, too. While every language is so different, the translation process is something universal. We focused on the character, tone, flavor of each of our English versions of the texts, our interpretations of them.
The language diversity was rich within our group and beyond. It also meant that there was a variety of fresh perspectives. For many in the audience, my reading was the first experience of hearing Lithuanian literature read out loud. As ever, it’s so interesting to witness the response and observe one of your native languages through the eyes of the audience to whom it’s unfamiliar.
Michelle: I started touching on this in one of my previous answers. Although all participants submitted both the source text and their translation, the language diversity in the group meant that we were able to focus on the translation in its own right. With Anton’s guidance, instead of overly concerning ourselves with the accuracy of the translation or conversations of loyalty to the source, issues not everyone could even pretend to address depending on the manuscript and source language, we discussed the effectiveness of the English-language text as something not subordinate to but perhaps accompanying the source text. I can only speak to my experience in Anton’s workshop during this iteration of Bread Loaf, but this is how I experienced our approach as a group. Of course given the diversity of languages in the room we were able to occasionally touch on issues such as potential artifacts from the source language, but this was decidedly not our focus. A (multilingual) translation workshop is a writing workshop. I found this refreshing, to move away from the source as anchoring the translation and instead contemplate the translation as an English-language text.
Hopscotch Translation: Do you sense that Bread Loaf will have changed anything in the way you go about your translation work in future?
Kotryna: The devotion I feel towards translation has intensified. In the time we spent together, my amazing group – Hannah Allen-Shim, Steve Bellin-Oka, Yoojung Chun, Kim Golding, Michelle Mirabella, Jenna Tang, Abigail Wender, Janice Whang and the workshop leader Anton Hur – offered so much insight, support, and encouragement.
It’s hard to put in words the extent of the dedication that our group has shown to our projects, the lengths we’re willing to go. I became so invested in these projects as though they were my own. I was once again stunned by Anton’s incredible prowess, generosity and encouragement. Reading his work and following his career is inspiration enough, but working with him so closely is simply extraordinary. I feel we spoke so much about things I deeply care about, translation and beyond translation, and he has been nothing but patient, understanding, and incredibly inspiring. I keep following the trail of their voices. Each of them has inevitably impacted my translatory experience and approach, and I will keep tirelessly cheering their work as time goes by.
There have been so many episodes and adventures that contributed to the truly special experience at Bread Loaf. Coming up with suspense thriller storylines at the dinner table. Listening to the hypnotizing readings by Jennifer Grotz, Madhu Kaza, Matvei Yankelevich and others. A bat that made its way into the Barn at one of the classes and flew circles around us with no intention to leave. Kim Golding building a fire in a fireplace on the day when the temperature decided to drop by a good twenty degrees overnight. The generosity of everyone involved, and their willingness to share with others, whether it was writing tips, insect repellent, or freshly picked strawberries. My own experience is now embedded in the vision and the dream I had since I first stumbled upon the fascinating event that Bread Loaf has always been.
Michelle: Here I will again mention and therefore emphasize that our approach in the multilingual workshop to the translations as English-language texts in their own right has, for me, already impacted my craft, particularly in the way that I revise my own translations and edit other people’s translation work. Although I had previously conceptualized translations as texts in their own right, it was the opportunity to discuss translations through that lens with other translators throughout an entire week that was novel and formative. As for the power of gathering, speaking to and learning from the faculty members and fellow participants in both structured sessions and informal conversations underscores the fallacy of depicting translation as a solitary act – it should be anything but. Participating in Bread Loaf has only served to strengthen my resolve to continue championing the work of other translators, so keep your eyes peeled for work from fellow workshop participants Hannah Allen-Shim, Steve Bellin-Oka, Yoojung Chun, Kim Golding, Kotryna Garansvili, Jenna Tang, Abigail Wender, Janice Whang, and of course our Booker-double-long-listed and short-listed translator and fearless workshop leader Anton Hur, along with the countless other incredible translators and writers at this year’s conference!
Kotryna Garanasvili is a writer, translator and interpreter working with English, Lithuanian, French, German, Russian and Georgian. She is currently pursuing PhD Candidate and teaching at the University of East Anglia. Her research is supported by CHASE Arts and Humanities Research Council. She is the winner of an Emerging Translator Mentorship at the National Centre for Writing and has been awarded translation traineeships at the EU Council and the European Parliament. She writes about translation among other things on her blog, https://kotrynagaranasvili.wordpress.com, and tweets as @kotryna_21.
Michelle Mirabella is a Spanish to English literary translator whose work appears in The Arkansas International, World Literature Today, Latin American Literature Today, Firmament, and elsewhere. A finalist in Columbia Journal’s 2022 Spring Contest in the translation category, Michelle has also published her original writing in Hopscotch Translation. She is a graduate of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and an alumna of the Banff International Literary Translation Centre. You can find out more at www.michellemirabella.com and follow her on Twitter as @MirabellaM_.
Originally published on Hopscotch Translation
Tuesday, August 23, 2022